But her husband Nick Harriss discovered three months later that – as he suspected – her death had instead been caused by sepsis.
Mrs Alexander-Harriss was bitten by a small poodle on June 15 last year as she walked her two bull terriers beside the Thames at Canada Water, prior to visiting a friend on her first day out after the lifting of the first lockdown.
Her friend cleaned and bandaged the bite. Mrs Alexander-Harriss did not seek a tetanus injection as she had had one several years earlier that offered her protection.
She started to feel unwell the following day, and worse the day after, displaying symptoms akin to food poisoning. Her husband called the NHS 111 helpline, informed the doctor he spoke with about the dog bite, and an ambulance was dispatched. She was admitted to A&E at King George hospital.
Mr Harriss, a financial adviser, told the Standard: “As the night went on, they said she was very badly ill - I was not allowed to accompany or visit her due to Covid restrictions.
“At that point I thought she might have got one of these superbugs like MRSA. She was taken from A&E to intensive care.
“In the morning I got the call that none of us want to receive, saying that she had sadly passed away. There were 12 hours between her being first seen by the ambulance and her dying.”
East London coroner Nadia Persaud said in a narrative verdict that Mrs Alexander-Harriss, a children’s author and designer from Ilford, “died as a result of an overwhelming bacterial infection caused by a dog bite”.
The coroner has sent a prevention of future deaths report to Public Health England, warning there is a “knowledge gap” in the medical profession about the bacteria, Capncytophagia canimorsus, which is commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats.
She said raising awareness could prevent similar tragedies – adding that the earlier administration of antibiotics “might have made a difference” to saving Mrs Alexander-Harriss.
Mr Harriss said the hospital had told him his wife’s death, on June 18, “looks like covid”, though he knew she had displayed none of the obvious symptoms, and her illness had appeared very rapidly.
“It was not a severe wound, which is where I think a lot of the problems came from,” he told the Standard.
“If it had been a severe wound or if she had been bitten by a Doberman rather than a little poodle, she probably would have gone to A&E, and they may have taken the wound itself more seriously.”
In September, tests on samples of blood taken at the time of her admission to hospital revealed the presence of the bacteria.
Mr Harriss recalled: “The ambulance crew were not very concerned about the dog bite, but they were concerned about her blood pressure and heartbeat. There was no obvious sign of infection and the wound was clean. They were particularly concerned she was very dehydrated after her sickness.
“It’s a very unusual occurrence. However, it’s concerning that A&E doctors are unaware that a dog bite which isn’t oozing pus or is a wound that needs stitches might still be a problem where the patient is exhibiting the signs of sepsis.
“The big question is bluntly: if she had been pumped full of antibiotics as soon as she got there, would that have made a difference? What is clear is that the hospital didn’t regard the dog bite as a problem. They were convinced at the time that she had died of Covid, and much of her treatment was Covid-related.
“The A&E and ICU doctors admitted they were completely unaware of this type of bacteria when I questioned them at the inquest. Not giving her antibiotics straight away seems to me ridiculous.”
Public Health England said: “We can confirm that the coroner’s report has been received and PHE will respond by July 2.”
Kathryn Halford, chief nurse at Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust, which runs King George hospital, said: “This was a very tragic case and our thoughts are with Mrs Alexander-Harriss’ family.
“This Prevention of Future Deaths report, addressed to Public Health England, will play an important role in raising awareness of the organism Capncytophagia canimorsus, among health professionals across the country.”
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